If Anthony Bourdain’s Life Was Not Perfect How Can Ours Ever Be?


If Anthony Bourdain’s Life Was Not Perfect How Can Ours Ever Be?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Ihaven’t seen every episode that Anthony Bourdain shot since he started his TV odyssey. I haven’t read any of his books, and I wouldn’t be able to tell one recipe of his from Manjukutty’s, my neighbourhood Kerala kitchen’s fantastic cook. But I knew some things about Bourdain.

In fact a little quote – If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel, as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them,  wherever you go – that hung on a rectangular frame in a restaurant called Red Fork in Indiranagar, Bangalore became a guiding beacon at a time I was struggling to make a serious career decision in my life. But this isn’t about that quote. This is about a life well lived and yet cut short in the most unfathomable way.

Anthony Bourdain’s ascent from a culinary upstart to being the most recognised ambassador of food and travel of our generation bites at the very edges of human accomplishment.

His mother Gladys in a short interview to the New York Times on Friday spoke about how he had no reason to be depressed and how Bourdain had more success and money than he could have ever imagined in his wildest dreams. To us laymen, who snacked on his award-winning shows, what he did for a living was the creamiest dream job of them all. His girlfriend, Asia Argento, an Italian actress, filmmaker, and activist, was one of the first brave women to speak against Harvey Weinstein. Happy pictures of the couple abound aplenty on their Instagram pages, a socially accepted denomination of one’s happiness quotient. On the surface, it looked perfect.

Yet, what could have made Anthony sitting in a luxury hotel in France, in the middle of a shooting schedule of a much-loved show, feel so hollow that he had to kill himself?

Whatever it is, that we are chasing, is it going to give as much as we think it will or will it move us one step closer to self-destruction?

For 99.99 per cent of humanity who will never rent a luxury villa in countryside France but is pushing itself to be able to do that someday, the question that rankles is, is it going to be worth it, when we get there? Whatever it is, that we are chasing, is it going to give as much as we think it will or will it move us one step closer to self-destruction? If people like Avicii, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain, all at the heights of their dazzling, creative careers felt empty enough to take their own lives, where does this all end?

Today, it’s been a year. The death of Anthony Bourdain should be an undeniable testament to what psychology, yoga, spirituality have been telling us for years – fame, career accomplishments, and money lead to nothing. That villa in France is not the peak of your achievement, neither is a lifetime of travel and good food the answer to it all.  Then,  what is?)

An acceptable theory, around staving off depression is that the goal should be personal fulfillment – with your spouse, your kids, and your friends and family. But what about some of us, who can’t reconcile with personal affection and tenderness beyond a point? Not everyone wants to be a great parent. What about those of us, who have estranged relationships with our parents? Taking that a step ahead, meditation gurus will stick their neck out saying that the goal is for the mind to be at peace with the crests and troughs life has to offer. It’s this sense of balance that will help us make sense of the vagaries.

Twice in my life before I have come close to contemplating extreme steps to end my life. On both occasions, I had just about enough clarity to seek help. I saw experienced counsellors and they helped me pull back from the dark voices in my head.

In this age of information overload, one can dig out any number of research reports to suggest as to how suicides could be prevented. Symptomatically, reports such as these point to specific situations about familial connections and attempt to answer questions like whether or not married people are less likely to commit suicide than those single, but the answers, as even experts will admit, are really up in the air.

Shakespeare likened life to a stage and gave credit to us being actors with a part and a purpose. Increasingly though, events like these point toward us being more like those little candies in a game where random incidents come together to make a pattern that might yield some apparent benefit or it might all just come crashing down.

Far away from the world of mortals like us, where we all head back home after a predictable day‘s work, wondering how we could reduce the misery of our ordinariness, there is a world of accomplished celebrity chefs, musicians, actors, fashion designers, businessmen, who perhaps want to be far more insignificant and those who might consider giving up their fame and money for that very mundanity that we are trying to get away from.

That to me is the saddest thing about life.